Ten years ago, Katy Perry taught us to “play with magic” with her stunning album Prism. A record about identity and staying present in the moment, Prism found Katy Perry in full bloom, pictured on the album’s cover bathed in sunlight and flowers. Revisiting this album in 2023, it seems Perry was ahead of her time with this exploration of New Age philosophy, a concept we all look to for guidance in our ever-complicated modern world.
The mammoth success of Perry’s 2010 sophomore album Teenage Dream made creating a follow-up an intimidating task. Perry set impossibly high standards for herself with this previous release, becoming the first woman in history to have five singles chart on the Billboard Hot 100 from one album. Offering up a similar spectacle with the next project would take guts.
Moreover, Perry had also gone through immense personal struggle in recent years. Her first marriage ended publicly in divorce, a loss so painful it left her contemplating whether life was worth living. According to Perry, this made the early work for the next album dark and experimental, toying with shoegaze and acoustic indie sounds. But the final product would eventually let the light in. By its October 2013 release, Prism had become a bright dance pop collection, offering up more fun hit singles that would define Perry’s illustrious career.
The Prism era kicked off with none other than ‘Roar’, an empowerment anthem for the ages. Its campy music video saw Perry prove her worth by surviving a plane crash, fighting a tiger, and befriending the animal kingdom under the luscious tree canopy of the jungle. This bubblegum power-pop track was utterly inescapable, defining 2010s poptimism and its celebration of self-love and confidence. ‘Roar’ gained further cultural significance in its battle for chart dominance against Lady Gaga’s ‘Applause’ (which generated so much publicity it even inspired the Glee episode ‘A Katy or a Gaga’ — you had to be there!), its status as the first music video by a female artist to hit one billion views on YouTube, and its stellar Super Bowl performance atop a mechanical lion in 2015.
‘Dark Horse’ is perhaps Prism’s crowning jewel, a single which saw Perry collaborate with rapper Juicy J to dive into a fresh trap-infused sound. This direction was unlike anything else on the radio at the time, no doubt inspiring hip-hop’s rise in popularity for the ensuing decade. With Halloween-influenced lyrics portraying Perry as a mystical, all-powerful enchantress, ‘Dark Horse’ took an inventive approach that aged like fine wine.
Other hits included the saccharine ‘Birthday’, which combined celebratory lyrics with thinly veiled and comedic sexual innuendo, and ‘This Is How We Do’, a generational electro-hip-hop track filled with goofy millennial slang and stabbing synths. Big ballad ‘Unconditionally’ also showed Perry’s true colours on a more genuine level. Written after a humanitarian trip to Madagascar, this song saw her soaring vocals offer a heartfelt take on human connection, representing love beyond the romantic.
Many of Prism’s deep cuts leaned significantly more introspective and slow, from the dreamy alt-pop of ‘Ghost’ to the sincere ode to appreciating what you have, ‘This Moment’.
With its heartbreakingly honest lyrics and sparse piano backing, album closer ‘By The Grace of God’ celebrated Perry’s full journey into adulthood “surviving my return to Saturn”, paying tribute to her religious upbringing and her path to recovering after divorce. But Prism also kept the vibe up with songs like ‘International Smile’ and ‘Walking On Air’. These tracks glitter under their energetic, pumping instrumentals. Both songs were influenced by 90s deep house acts like Crystal Waters, and took lyrical inspiration from Perry’s close friendship to actress Mia Moretti. Finally, the bhangra-based ‘Legendary Lovers’ or the cinematic ‘Double Rainbow’ pulled the album’s thread of spirituality together, with their astrological theming and visualisation of love within the natural world.
Whilst Teenage Dream is often remembered as Katy Perry’s epic, Prism deserves its flowers for transforming our pop princess from that Candyland party girl into a powerful, fully matured woman. This album showed she’d been through many battles and learnt many hard lessons, but was all the more stronger for it. A decade on, Prism still has plenty to teach us, not only about the person behind the larger-than-life character of Katy Perry, but about discovering our deepest, truest selves.